Today I am so pleased to welcome J.C. Lillis to Joyfully Jay. J.C. has come to talk to us about her latest release, You First (which I reviewed here and loved). She has also brought along a great giveaway. Please join me in giving her a big welcome!
They’re draping the Riverside Medal of Honor around my boyfriend’s neck when the pigeon hops up to my folding chair and tells me it’s all downhill from here.
“It’s all downhill from here,” she says, in that low tender coo only I can decipher. “Whatever comes next is going to hurt.”
I roll my eyes but I don’t bother shushing her or shooing her off, especially when I see the bare patch on her back and her battered tailfeathers. Pigeons aren’t assholes, really, just wearily honest because they’ve seen so much. Plus you try staying sweet when you have iridescent feathers and stunning navigational skills and people still treat you like a rat with wings.
“You’re the boyfriend, right?” she trills. “I’ve been watching you both since you got here. I’m sorry, but this doesn’t look good at all.”
I set my mouth in a neutral line and fiddle with my superband. If I ignore her, she might go away.
“There he goes, there he goes.” She bobs her head at the platform in front of us. “Man of the hour. Hobnobbing with the big shots.”
The mayor and deputy mayor both shake Jay’s hand, which hardly counts as a hobnob, and applause fills the Riverside town square. Jay takes the medal in his hands and flips it up so he can peer at it. Like he can’t believe it’s real. It’s a breach of etiquette, I guess, but a cute one, so the giggles that travel the crowd are kind ones. I don’t laugh, but I unclench. How could things change, when the first thing he did post-medal was so perfectly Jay?
“He’ll say things won’t change,” says the pigeon, “but they always do. Be prepared.”
There’s a broken saltine in my jacket pocket and I toss it at her. I try to be tolerant of the handful of animals I can understand, but there are times when pigeon hand-wringing (wing-wringing?) especially grates, and this is one of them.
“You know it’s true,” she says, pecking at the cracker. “You just don’t want to admit it yet.”
I fold my arms against her nattering and keep my eyes on Jay. He steps up to the podium, gold medal shining against the blue chambray shirt I bought him four birthdays ago. The medal’s so big and bright it looks unreal, like a plastic prop for a Halloween hero costume. But I know I’ll get to touch it later, and I’ll feel how heavy it is, and I’ll blush when my fingers leave sweaty prints behind.
My boyfriend, who has never once remembered to put the twist tie back on the bread bag, is an actual, authentic, grade-A hero now.
“Thank you. Wow. This is an honor,” he says, fidgeting with the mic. “I, ah, want you guys to know first and foremost that I normally don’t, you know. Save towns in peril.” That gets a laugh and I exhale, because when people like him I feel liked by extension. “But you seemed cool. I mean, pretty cool. So I made an exception.” Bigger laugh. “And—well, it was selfish too, a little bit. Your historic district has the best junk shops, so a flood would’ve been a bummer. Like, where would I go to spend twelve bucks on a Christmas ornament from 1945?”
Man, he’s killing it. Chuckles from all the Riverside hipsters who showed up for this half-ironically. They too have spent their disposable cash on chipped glass orbs and bubble-lights for their vintage aluminum trees.
“But seriously, guys, I’m glad I could help.” The crowd quiets. He clears his throat and his pale cheeks redden, like they do when we’re performing one of our weekend shows and he bungles a juggling trick. “There are moments in your life that push you, and test you, and sometimes you hang back because you don’t think you’re strong enough. But I’m glad I didn’t hang back that day. And I’m glad I could be strong enough, for you. That day sort of proved something to me, so I feel like…ah…” He runs a hand through his faded-gold hair and sucks in his lips, a sure sign he’s choking up. I hold my breath for him. “Like I should be thanking you instead.”
Spontaneous applause follows, because everyone loves a genuine hero who’s also genuinely nice. He’s winging this part and he’s handling it perfectly. Much better than I would.
“You’d never be a hero in the first place, probably,” warbles the pigeon, and did I mention they’re not literal mind-readers but maddeningly close? “You’re not like him, right? He’s not like you. Not anymore…”
I tune her out at this point, mostly, but the gist is she’s seen this before, this kind of sudden imbalance between long-term lovers, and it knocks everything off-kilter and leads to long rambling multi-day arguments and a calamitous breakup on a park bench at night. That’s not an exact translation. She doesn’t use calamitous, of course, but the word in pigeon sounds even more sinister.
“That won’t happen,” I murmur through my teeth, so low only she can hear. “I won’t let it.”
As soon as I say it, though, I feel like I’m auditioning for a cop show. Who am I to tell anyone, feathered or otherwise, what will and won’t happen? And when have I ever shown the talent—or the will—to sidestep something inevitable?
Jay changes currents, reroutes waves of destruction. Not me.
My lunch burritos roil in my stomach.
“So real quick, I want to thank my amazing family, who are all here today, and are frankly much more super than I’ll ever be.” All eyes on our row. I shrink down a little. “And also, a special thanks to my partner, Levon,” he says, his lips almost kissing the mic now, “for putting on a tie and coming here today, and most of all, putting up with me for thirteen years.”
He waves at me and I lift my hand and feel the warmth and mortification of a collective awwwwww. Even his mom gets in on it from the folding chair to my right. She’s always low-key tutted about my lack of ambition poisoning her son’s potential, but now that he’s suitably famed and acclaimed, I guess she’s ready to buy us a gravy boat. I accept her teary-eyed arm-squeeze and the carbon-copy smiles of his father and four golden super-siblings, and I grin back, thinking of how Jay said my name at the podium. With pride, devotion, easy intimacy. All good signs.
This thing that’s happening right now: it’s a good thing for him, a meaningful thing, a thing he’ll cherish on his deathbed. But it’s one small boat in the current of our life.
“One request, though?” Jay flexes his shoulders awkwardly, like they ache. “Next time you guys have a flood—can you ah, give me more notice? I’ll hit the gym first.”
The crowd chortles and claps again and the pigeon hops up on my shoe. I peer over my lap at her. Her sad beady eyes bore into mine. Over the din of grateful Riversiders, she quotes the words I’m trying not to dwell on:
I joggle my foot and she pigeon-hops away across the cobblestones, leaving a warning poo on my wingtip.
When sort-of-superhero Levon Ludlow meets Jay Jantzen on a bench beside their college quad, he knows he’s met a kindred spirit. Levon can talk to animals, but only pests and nuisances that no one wants to talk to. Jay can manipulate and freeze water, but only thirty-two ounces at a time. They fall in love fast and hard, bonding over their mundane powers and pledging to be content with a small and safe life in Levon’s beloved hometown.
But thirteen years in, Levon knows that small and safe are no longer enough for his partner. Jay’s been on a self-improvement kick, honing and expanding his powers on the sly. And when Jay gets recruited by a super headhunter for a job three thousand miles away, their long-term relationship is tested like never before.
With the dubious advice of some irksome animals—and the help of an unexpected new mentor—Levon tries his hardest to boost his own powers, catch up to Jay, and salvage their bond. But the more he learns about himself, the less clear-cut his choices seem. Can they save their relationship—and if they want different things, should they even try?
An adult comedy-drama from the author of YA novel HOW TO REPAIR A MECHANICAL HEART, this is a bittersweet story about finding love, finding yourself, and fighting for the future you deserve.
J.C. Lillis is the author of contemporary YA novels HOW TO REPAIR A MECHANICAL HEART, WE WON’T FEEL A THING, and A&B, plus various other stories about fandom, friendship, love, and art. She lives in Baltimore with her patient family, a possibly haunted dollhouse, and a cat who intends to eat her someday. YOU FIRST is her first adult novel.
J.C. has brought a copy of You First to give away to one lucky reader. Just leave a comment at the end of the post to enter. The contest ends on Wednesday, May 29th at 11:59 pm ET.
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